Last week, I asked “What could be wrong with Halloween?”
The Encyclopedia Britannica notes that Halloween has “its origins in Samhain, one of the most-sinister festivals on the Celtic calendar. The ancient Celts believed that on November 1 the souls of those who had died returned to visit their homes or to journey to the otherworld. People set fires to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by ghosts.”
Almost all of our Christian holidays are responses to pagan holidays. For example, Jesus was almost certainly not born on December 25th. Most scholars believe it is much more likely he was born in the spring. But we celebrate his birth on December 25th because centuries ago the church wanted to have a Christian holiday in response to Winter Solstice which is on December 21st. The same exact thing happened with Halloween. All Saints Day was always in spring, and still is for the Eastern Church.
Again, the Britannica tells us that “In the 8th century…the Roman Catholic Church—perhaps in an effort to end the pagan holiday of Samhain—moved All Saints’ Day to November 1. The evening before became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. While the day was celebrated by some Christians, many of the Samhain traditions persisted, and Halloween eventually became more commonly known as a secular holiday.”
So it is that out of these ancient traditions grew Halloween. Samhain’s focus on evil and witchcraft and demons and ghosts, and the current iteration in Halloween, has caused many people to wonder if it is something that Christians should steer clear of.
It is a concern Christians should take seriously. What do we do about the spirit world? Is it possible that participation in Halloween could mean that we Christians are in league with the devil? Are we being tricked into something?
In 1st Corinthians 10:14-22 Paul talks about this in a letter he wrote to Christians living in the city of Corinth in the first century AD.
In their day and age, idol worship was a daily occurrence. Pagan temples abounded in their cities. Paul tells them to flee from idolatry. The idols? They’re nothing he says. Just some carvings made from wood or stone. The meat sacrificed to idols? No big deal. It’s just food.
But what he says in verse 20 is quite important. Though idols and the meat sacrifices are nothing, who the people are actually worshiping is something. He says the people are actually participating with demons. Paul is very concerned, then, that the Christians should not have involvement in pagan worship because it was actually demonic. Don’t make God jealous, he says.
Samhain, the root of Halloween, was once a pagan holiday. So many Christians feel we should not participate in Halloween.
Before we address Halloween in particular, let’s talk about the spirit world a bit. We do need to heed Paul’s teaching that we Christians are not to get involved in the spirit world. The spirit world and demons are real and powerful.
How many of you have had experiences in which you felt you were directly interacting with the spirit world or that spirit world was interacting with you? At Faith Church we have had missionaries tell us about interactions they’ve had with the spirit world oppressing their families and ministries.
During the summer I did my college missionary internship in Guyana, I had two such instances, and when we were missionaries in Jamaica there was a time when we, along with other missionaries, prayed through a family’s home as they were experiencing some demonic manifestation.
But those are all examples of foreign places. We hear about the spirit world and demons in foreign lands, especially related to missionary work. But what about here? I personally have had very little experience with the demonic in the USA. But there have been a couple times.
When I was Faith Church’s youth pastor our youth group did work camp mission trips, and one year we went to Gloversville, New York. The project I was on included minor repairs and painting at the home of a family in need. As we got to know the family, the mother divulged to us that she was a witch. She went on to describe what kinds of magic she did, as if it was all totally normal. My work team I led, about 8 middle and high schoolers, found her stories to be disconcerting.
She then showed us a cabinet in her dining room. It looked like a really big spice rack, and the containers had more than just spices. She explained that they were ingredients for her magic potions. The family also had a tree in their yard that she said they performed magic on, and somehow used it in her spells. Some of the team members heard this and started looking at one another nervously. They had been climbing in that tree. Near the end of the week the lady told us that she was going to make us BBQ chicken as a thank you for the work we were doing. When we got in the van after work that day, the team immediately started questioning me about the chicken. Should they eat it?
Then there was the woman living in one of the apartment complexes near our church property. She had started attending Faith Church. I was the youth pastor at the time, and she stopped by the office one day to tell the senior pastor that there were demonic manifestations in her home. She wanted us to come over to her house and pray. So we went over and prayed through her house.
What have you experienced?
And what do I mean by “demonic manifestation”? I am not talking about just being scared. Growing up I was often afraid of the dark. My regular chore was to take out the trash, and I hated collecting the trash from the wastebaskets downstairs. If no one else was down there, as soon as I was done with the trash, I would turn off last light and bolt up the dark stairs, imagining evil things nipping at my heels. I also can get freaked out at scary movies. The Sixth Sense did me in for a few days. I often have vivid scary dreams. Are these examples of intersection with the spirit world?
I recently heard a psychology professor talk, and he was saying that there needs to be balance. Some people want to say that anything that was once called a demonic manifestation is actually just the brain and our bodies misfiring. Emotion that is too strong. Out of control. There is no spirit world, they say. It is all in our minds. This psychologist counters, “Wait a minute…not so fast. It is a both-and.” The spirit world is real, and likewise our minds and bodies can create situations that are not true. The movie A Beautiful Mind is an example of how schizophrenia can impact a person. In years gone by, a real condition like schizophrenia would have been considered demon possession. Now we know that it is not so.
Look at the stories of Jesus, though, or look at the vast accounts of the spirit realm throughout the ages, and in our own day, and we need to conclude that the spirit realm is real.
My first encouragement to you today is that you do not underestimate the power of the dark side. Ok, that was a little Star Wars reference for you. But the point is true. Satan is powerful. Demons are no joke. Remember our series through Luke and all the times that Jesus interacted with demons? Those demons had lots of power to wreck, totally wreck, people’s lives. So don’t toy with them. Don’t experiment. Don’t think that you’ll be fine. Don’t think you are strong enough to handle it. Be teachable, be self-aware. Know that you are not capable of defeating the spirit world should spirits interact with you.
Don’t invite the battle.
But aren’t Christians safe because of Jesus? Safe from possession, yes, but not oppression. As we often saw in the Gospel of Luke earlier this year and last year, Jesus regularly interacted with the spirit world. Whether it was Satan himself or the many demons who confronted him, there was always one thing that was the same:
There was no contest. Those demons ran scared. Even Satan couldn’t tempt him.
Jesus either outsmarted them or he overpowered them. It wasn’t even a question. Each time it was no contest. He would win.
If the battle would be between us and the powers of darkness, it would also be no contest, but we would lose! We need to humble ourselves and admit that. The problem is that we often think we can do battle.
In Ephesians 6:10-20, we read about the Armor of God. I’ve heard people talk like all we need to do is strap on that armor and go do battle with spirits. But if you look closely at how Paul actually describes the armor of God, you see a very different picture.
When you put on the armor of God, you are actually depending on God and obeying him so that his power is at work in us and through us. It is not our power. It is all him.
Be truthful, faithful, righteous, study God’s word, and pray. These might not sound like typical weapons in a battle, but in God’s Kingdom they are powerful, because they rely on his power. By doing these things we stay humble, we stay dependent on God’s ability and power.
So whether it is real interaction with ghosts or Ouija boards or any form of sorcery or witchcraft, anything having to do with demons I encourage you to stay away from it.
But if the spiritual realm comes to you, and it might, I urge you not to assume that you can fight it and win. Instead go to God in prayer. Plead for him to save you, plead for him to have victory.
I have heard of formulaic prayers that are supposed to be able defeat demons. Pray a “hedge of protection.” “Pray the blood of Jesus”. Claim victory in Jesus name. As if these are magical incantations. I’m not so sure about that. I don’t see any Scripture that gives clear instructions about that. They are based on Scripture, which is good, but in no way should we consider them to be formulaic prayers that will automatically defeat evil.
Instead, we are to put on the armor of God!
And what of Halloween? Same goes there. Put on the full armor of God and you’ll be fine.
Let me be a bit more specific. Halloween in our day is not the same as the ancient Samhaim. Samhaim involved direct interaction with the spirit realm.
When you are participating in a costume party or trick-or-treating, are you involved in direct interaction with the spiritual realm? I highly doubt it. For most, Halloween is a bunch of kids in costumes, followed by their parents, as the kids run from door to door in friendly neighborhoods getting candy. Whatever connection to the spirit world trick or treating once had, it is long, long gone.
The spirit world is active in many other ways. And those other ways are where we need to be on alert. Demonic possession and oppression. Methods used for directly trying to interact with spirits. Methods used for trying to access the power of spirits. Steer clear of them.
Fortune tellers, mediums who claim to be able to contact the dead, Ouija boards. Interaction with ghosts. Sacrificing of animals. Magical potions and incantations. These are no joke.
I urge you to stay away from direct involvement in the spirit world. And if that Spirit world should come to you, remember that Jesus is greater! Remember that Jesus won the victory. Pray for him to intervene! If it keeps happening, talk with your pastor or a trusted, mature Christian friend for help. And remember that our God is greater.